Pauline Oliveros

Last updated
Pauline Oliveros
Pauline Oliveros in Oakland, 2010
Born(1932-05-30)May 30, 1932
DiedNovember 24, 2016(2016-11-24) (aged 84)
Known for Deep Listening Band
Spouse(s)Carole Ione Lewis
Oliveros (right) playing in Mexico City in 2006 Poliveros.JPG
Oliveros (right) playing in Mexico City in 2006

Pauline Oliveros (May 30, 1932 – November 24, 2016) [2] was an American composer, accordionist and a central figure in the development of post-war experimental and electronic music.


She was a founding member of the San Francisco Tape Music Center in the 1960s, and served as its director. She taught music at Mills College, the University of California San Diego (UCSD), Oberlin Conservatory of Music, and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Oliveros authored books, formulated new music theories, and investigated new ways to focus attention on music including her concepts of "deep listening" and "sonic awareness". [3] She was an Eyebeam resident.

Early life and career

Oliveros was born in Houston, Texas. [4] She started to play music as early as kindergarten, [5] and at nine years of age she began to play the accordion, received from her mother, a pianist, because of its popularity in the 1940s. [6] She later went on to learn violin, piano, tuba and French horn for grade school and college music. At the age of sixteen she resolved to become a composer. [7]

Oliveros arrived in California and supported herself with a day job, and supplemented this by giving accordion lessons. [6] From there Oliveros went on to attend Moores School of Music at the University of Houston, studying with Willard A. Palmer, and earned a BFA degree in composition from San Francisco State College, where her teachers included composer Robert Erickson, with whom she had private lessons and who mentored her for six to seven years. This is also where she met artists Terry Riley, Stuart Dempster and Loren Rush. [6] [8]

When Oliveros turned 21, she obtained her first tape recording deck, which led to her creating her own pieces and future projects in this field. [8] Oliveros was one of the original members of the San Francisco Tape Music Center, which was an important resource for electronic music on the U.S. West Coast during the 1960s. [9] The Center later moved to Mills College, with Oliveros serving as its first director; it was renamed the Center for Contemporary Music. [10] Oliveros often improvised with the Expanded Instrument System, an electronic signal processing system she designed, in her performances and recordings. [11] Oliveros held Honorary Doctorates in Music from the University of Maryland Baltimore County, Mills College, Oakland, California; and DeMontfor University, Leicester, U.K.


In 1967, Oliveros left Mills to take a faculty music department position at the University of California San Diego. [12] There, Oliveros met theoretical physicist and karate master Lester Ingber, with whom she collaborated in defining the attentional process as applied to music listening. [13] She also studied karate under Ingber, achieving black belt level. In 1973, Oliveros conducted studies at the University's one-year-old Center for Music Experiment; she served as the center's director from 1976 to 1979. In 1981, to escape creative constriction, [14] she left her tenured position as full Professor of Music at University of California San Diego [15] and relocated to upstate New York to become an independent composer, performer, and consultant. [15]

Deep listening

Pauline at Other Minds 20 in San Francisco in 2015 OliverosOM20.jpg
Pauline at Other Minds 20 in San Francisco in 2015

In 1988, as a result of descending 14 feet into the Dan Harpole underground cistern in Port Townsend, Washington, to make a recording, Oliveros coined the term "deep listening" [12] —a pun that has blossomed into "an aesthetic based upon principles of improvisation, electronic music, ritual, teaching and meditation. This aesthetic is designed to inspire both trained and untrained performers to practice the art of listening and responding to environmental conditions in solo and ensemble situations". [16] Dempster, Oliveros and Panaiotis then formed the Deep Listening Band, and deep listening became a program of the Pauline Oliveros Foundation, founded in 1985. The Deep Listening program includes annual listening retreats in Europe, New Mexico and in upstate New York, as well as apprenticeship and certification programs. The Pauline Oliveros Foundation changed its name to Deep Listening Institute, Ltd., in 2005. The Deep Listening Band, which included Oliveros, David Gamper (1947–2011) and Stuart Dempster, specializes in performing and recording in resonant or reverberant spaces such as caves, cathedrals and huge underground cisterns. They have collaborated with Ellen Fullman and her long-string instrument, as well as countless other musicians, dancers and performers. The Center for Deep Listening at Rensselaer, under the direction of Tomie Hahn, is now established and is the steward of the former Deep Listening Institute, Ltd. A celebratory concert was held on March 11, 2015 at the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC) at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York. [17]

Sonic awareness

Von Gunden [18] names a new musical theory developed by Oliveros, "sonic awareness", and describes it as "the ability to consciously focus attention upon environmental and musical sound", requiring "continual alertness and an inclination to be always listening" and which she describes as comparable to John Berger's concept of visual consciousness (as in his Ways of Seeing ). [19] Oliveros discusses this theory in the "Introductions" to her Sonic Meditations and in articles. Von Gunden describes sonic awareness as "a synthesis of the psychology of consciousness, the physiology of the martial arts, and the sociology of the feminist movement", [20] and describes two ways of processing information, "attention and awareness", [20] or focal attention and global attention, which may be represented by a dot and circle, respectively, a symbol Oliveros commonly employs in compositions such as Rose Moon (1977) and El Rilicario de los Animales (1979). [20] (The titles of Oliveros' pieces Rose Moon and Rose Mountain refer to her romantic partner Linda Montano having gone by Rose Mountain at one time. [21] ) Later this representation was expanded, with the symbol quartered and the quarters representing "actively making sound", "actually imagining sound", "listening to present sound" and "remembering past sound", with this model used in Sonic Meditations. [22] Practice of the theory creates "complex sound masses possessing a strong tonal center". [23]


Oliveros taught at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Mills College. She was born in Houston, Texas in 1932, and died in 2016 in Kingston, New York. [24]

She was openly lesbian. [25] In 1975 Oliveros met her eventual partner, performance artist Linda Montano. [26] The titles of Oliveros' pieces Rose Moon and Rose Mountain refer to Montano having gone by Rose Mountain at one time. [21]

Annie Sprinkle’s 1992 production The Sluts and Goddesses Video Workshop – Or How To Be A Sex Goddess in 101 Easy Steps, which was co-produced and co-directed with videographer Maria Beatty, featured music by Oliveros.

Oliveros received a 1994 Foundation for Contemporary Arts Grants to Artists award. [27]

In 2007, Oliveros received the Resounding Vision Award from Nameless Sound.

She contributed a chapter to Sound Unbound: Sampling Digital Music and Culture (The MIT Press, 2008) edited by Paul D. Miller a.k.a. DJ Spooky.

She was the 2009 recipient of the William Schuman Award, from Columbia University School of the Arts.

Oliveros was the author of five books, Sounding the Margins: Collected Writings 1992–2009, Initiation Dream, Software for People, The Roots of the Moment, and Deep Listening: A Composer's Sound Practice.

In 2012, Oliveros received the John Cage Award from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts. [28]

Some of her music was featured in the 2014 French video game NaissanceE. [29]

Oliveros' work Deep Listening Room was featured in the 2014 Whitney Biennial. [30]

Oliveros was a member of Avatar Orchestra Metaverse, a global collaboration of composers, artists and musicians that approaches the virtual reality platform Second Life as an instrument itself. [31]

She was also a patron of Soundart Radio in Dartington, Devon.

Notable works


Notable students



Related Research Articles

Ambient music is a genre of music that emphasizes tone and atmosphere over traditional musical structure or rhythm. A form of instrumental music, it may lack net composition, beat, or structured melody. It uses textural layers of sound which can reward both passive and active listening and encourage a sense of calm or contemplation. The genre is said to evoke an "atmospheric", "visual", or "unobtrusive" quality. Nature soundscapes may be included, and the sounds of acoustic instruments such as the piano, strings and flute may be emulated through a synthesizer.

Miya Masaoka American composer, musician and sound artist (born 1958)

Miya Masaoka is based in New York City and is an American composer, musician, and sound artist active in the field of contemporary classical music and experimental music. Her work encompasses contemporary classical composition, improvisation, electroacoustic music, inter-disciplinary sound art, sound installation, traditional Japanese instruments, and performance art. Her full-length ballet was performed at the Venice Biennale 2004.

Ellen Fullman is an American composer, instrument builder, and performer. She was born in Memphis, Tennessee, and is currently based in the San Francisco Bay Area. She is known for her 70-foot (21-meter) Long String instrument, tuned in just intonation and played with rosin-coated fingers.

Stuart Dempster

Stuart Dempster is a trombonist, didjeridu player, improvisor, and composer.

Deep Listening Band

The Deep Listening Band (DLB) was founded in 1988 by Pauline Oliveros, Stuart Dempster and Panaiotis. David Gamper replaced Panaiotis in 1990.

Ruth Anderson (composer) American musician

Ruth Anderson was an American composer, orchestrator, teacher, and flutist.

The San Francisco Tape Music Center, or SFTMC, was founded in the summer of 1962 by composers Ramon Sender, Morton Subotnick and Pauline Oliveros as a collaborative, "non profit corporation developed and maintained" by local composers working with tape recorders and other novel compositional technologies, which functioned both as an electronic music studio and concert venue. Composer Pauline Oliveros, artist Tony Martin and technician William Maginnis eventually joined the SFTMC.

Sound Patterns (1961) is a musical piece for a cappella mixed chorus by Pauline Oliveros. Oliveros won the Gaudeamus International Composers Award in 1962 with this work.

Meditation music is music performed to aid in the practice of meditation. It can have a specific religious content, but also more recently has been associated with modern composers who use meditation techniques in their process of composition, or who compose such music with no particular religious group as a focus. The concept also includes music performed as an act of meditation.

Gayle Young is a Canadian composer and author. Young is an adherent of microtonality who has invented a number of musical instruments and notational systems.

Pamela Z

Pamela Z is an American composer, performer, and media artist who is best known for her solo works for voice with electronic processing. In performance, she combines various vocal sounds including operatic bel canto, experimental extended techniques and spoken word, with samples and sounds generated by manipulating found objects. Z's musical aesthetic is one of sonic accretion, and she typically processes her voice in real time through the software program Max on a MacBook Pro as a means of layering, looping, and altering her live vocal sound. Her performance work often includes video projections and special controllers with sensors that allow her to use physical gestures to manipulate the sound and projected media.

Heidi C. Von Gunden is a musicologist and Associate Professor of Composition-Theory at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. She has written books on the music of Ben Johnston, Pauline Oliveros, Lou Harrison, and Vivian Fine. The books about Johnston's and Harrison's music are detailed studies about the composers' use of just intonation, and the books about Oliveros and Fine contain analyses of their music and examine the issues of women composers. In addition, Von Gunden has published several compositions and contributed theoretical writings and analyses to the College Music Symposium, Neuland, Perspectives of New Music, and the International League of Women Composers Journal.

Andrew Deutsch is a sound artist who also teaches at the New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University.

Brenda Hutchinson is an American composer and sound artist who has developed a body of work based on a perspective about interacting with the public and non-artists through personal, reciprocal engagement with listening and sounding. Hutchinson encourages her participants to experiment with sound, share stories, and make music. She often bases her electroacoustic compositions on recordings of these individual collaborative experiences, creating "sonic portraits" or "aural pictures" of people and situations.

Dana Reason Canadian musician

Dana Reason is a Canadian composer, recording artist, keyboardist, producer, arranger, and sound artist working at the intersections of contemporary musical genres and intermedia practices.

The Brooklyn College Center for Computer Music (BC-CCM) located at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York (CUNY) was one of the first computer music centers at a public university in the United States. The BC-CCM is a community of artists and researchers that began in the 1970s.

Nina C. Young is an American electro-acoustic composer of contemporary classical music who resides in New York City. She won the 2015 Rome Prize in musical composition, a 2021 Guggenheim Fellowship, and a 2014 Charles Ives Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Mia Zabelka

Mia Zabelka is an Austrian contemporary violinist, improviser, and composer of Czech, Jewish and French familiar background. Comprehensively educated in classical music from early age on she opened up the traditional understanding of the violin as solo and ensemble instrument towards improvisation, experimental music, and sound art.

Norman Eugene Lowrey is a composer, mask-maker, performance/sound/video artist, and music educator. He studied composition privately with Samuel Jones in 1964-65, earned a Bachelor of Music from Texas Christian University in 1967, and completed his formal music education at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester New York. He received an M.M. in theory (1970), and a PhD in composition in 1974. Lowrey is also well-known as an associate of the American composer Pauline Oliveros.

Lisa E. Harris American artist, opera singer, and composer

Lisa E. Harris, also known as Li, is a multimedia artist, opera singer, and composer. She is renowned for her interdisciplinary work using voice, text, installation, movement, and new media.


  1. Smith, Steve (2016-11-28). "Pauline Oliveros, Composer Who Championed 'Deep Listening,' Dies at 84 (Published 2016)". The New York Times. ISSN   0362-4331 . Retrieved 2021-01-30.
  2. Wagner, Laura, "Pauline Oliveros, Pioneer Of 'Deep Listening,' Dies At 84". Cited an Instagram post by flautist Claire Chase and confirmation by friends on Oliveros' Facebook page. Retrieved 2016-11-26.
  3. Taylor, Timothy (Autumn 1993). "The Gendered Construction of the Musical Self: The Music of Pauline Oliveros". Musical Quarterly. Oxford University Press. 77 (3): 385–396. doi:10.1093/mq/77.3.385. JSTOR   742386.
  4. "Pauline Oliveros | American musician and composer". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2020-08-05.
  5. Baker, Alan. "An interview with Pauline Oliveros". Retrieved 1 December 2016.
  6. 1 2 3 Baker, Alan. "An interview with Pauline Oliveros". American Mavericks American Public Media.
  7. Service, Tom. "A guide to Pauline Oliveros's music". The Guardian.
  8. 1 2 Smith, Steve. "Strange Sounds Led a Composer to a Long Career". New York Times.
  9. Amirkhanian, Charles. "Women in Electronic Music – 1977". Liner note essay. New World Records.
  10. Thomas B. Holmes; Thom Holmes (2002). Electronic and Experimental Music: Pioneers in Technology and Composition. Psychology Press. pp. 192–. ISBN   978-0-415-93644-6.
  11. Paul Sanden (2013). Liveness in Modern Music: Musicians, Technology, and the Perception of Performance. Routledge. pp. 110–. ISBN   978-0-415-89540-8.
  12. 1 2 An interview with Pauline Oliveros. Alan Baker, American Public Media. January 2003.
  13. Pauline Oliveros. Deep Listening: A Bridge To Collaboration. (1998) Archived 2009-05-30 at the Wayback Machine
  14. Sitsky, Larry (2002), Music of the Twentieth-Century Avant-Garde: A Biocritical Sourcebook, Greenwood Press, p. 346, ISBN   0-313-29689-8
  15. 1 2 Pauline Oliveros. Curriculum Vitae Archived 2009-01-25 at the Wayback Machine
  16. Ankeny, Jason. "Pauline Oliveros Biography". Archived 2014-10-26 at the Wayback Machine 98.5 Kiss FM.
  17. "Center for Deep Listening at Rensselaer Opening Celebration March 11 at EMPAC – School of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences – Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)". Archived from the original on 27 November 2016. Retrieved 30 November 2016.
  18. Von Gunden, Heidi (1983). The Music of Pauline Oliveros, p.105. Scarecrow Press. ISBN   0-8108-1600-8. Foreword by Ben Johnston.
  19. Von Gunden, Heidi (Autumn, 1980 – Summer, 1981). "The Theory of Sonic Awareness in The Greeting by Pauline Oliveros", Perspectives of New Music, Vol. 19, No. 1/2, p. 409.
  20. 1 2 3 Von Gunden (1980), p.410.
  21. 1 2 Von Gunden (1983), p.128-129.
  22. Von Gunden (1980), p.412.
  23. Von Gunden (1980), p.411.
  24. Cunningham, John M. "Pauline Oliveros, American musician and composer". Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved 4 April 2020.
  25. Ulrich, Allan (May 26, 1998), "Lesbian American Composers", The Advocate , archived from the original (– Scholar search ) on May 21, 2005
  26. Mockus, Martha (2007). Sounding Out: Pauline Oliveros and Lesbian Musicality, p.96. Routledge. ISBN   978-0-415-97376-2 (paperback), ISBN   978-0-415-97375-5 (hardback), ISBN   978-0-203-93559-0 (electronic).
  27. "Pauline Oliveros". Foundation for Contemporary Arts. Retrieved 1 December 2016.
  28. "Pauline Oliveros". Foundation for Contemporary Arts. Retrieved 13 February 2014.
  29. "About". Limasse Five. Archived from the original on 5 September 2014. Retrieved 21 October 2014.[ self-published source ]
  30. Whitney Museum of American Art. 103 Participants Selected for 2014 Whitney Biennial, To Take Place March 7 – May 25, 2014. N.p., 14 Nov. 2013. Web. 1 Feb. 2014.
  31. "Avatar Orchestra Metaverse".
  32. "Pauline Oliveros :: Foundation for Contemporary Arts". Retrieved 20 June 2017.

Further reading